November 19, 2017, 09:32:20 PM

Author Topic: [Sep 2017] - Regret and Redemption - Submission Thread  (Read 769 times)

Offline xiagan

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[Sep 2017] - Regret and Redemption - Submission Thread
« on: August 24, 2017, 05:27:38 PM »
Regret and Redemption


by http://maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com

Your MC did something, planned or by accident, and it went terribly wrong. Life is now constant regret. Do they want to correct it? Is it even possible? Everybody should have the chance to redeem themselves, but this is not a fairy tale - or is it?

Rules:

1. This must be prose or poetry.
2. The story's theme must be regret and/or contain an MC who tries to redeem himself.
3. Prose must be 500-1500 words long.
4. Poetry must be 100-750 words long.
5. One story per person or writing team (not per account).
6. You will be disqualified if you exceed the limits, full stop. That's why they're called limits.
7. Your entry can't be published somewhere else before.
8. This is a writing contest, not a "I have written something like this ten years ago" contest. So if you happen to have a story that fits one of the themes, I'd like it to have a mayor overhaul/edit. Work for it. ;)
9. Please add your story's word count and, if you have, your twitter handle.
10. Please put your story in [ spoiler ] tags to make the thread easier to handle. :) You can find them above the smileys under the B.

If you want so submit your story anonymously you can do so by sending it in a personal message to @xiagan.

Entry will close September 30th/October 1st, 2017 and voting will begin somewhere around the same time too.

All members are eligible to join. If you are not a member you can join here. Sign up is free and all are welcome! :)

The winner will have their piece displayed on the main Fantasy Faction website sometime in the next months.
Submitting a story counts as published. The author retains all rights to their work.

Remember that this thread is only for entries. Discussion or questions can be posted here.
« Last Edit: August 24, 2017, 08:10:05 PM by xiagan »
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Offline Jmack

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Re: [Sep 2017] - Regret and Redemption - Submission Thread
« Reply #1 on: September 10, 2017, 03:14:33 AM »
It's been a while since I was first to post, but the story is ready so here it is.  :)

1,485 words.

TO THE RUINS

Spoiler for Hiden:
Reader, I promised that even if in my writings I shield the reputations of some, I would never spare my own. By now, you have facts enough to judge me. In this next entry, I give you more and besides.

Among the men of action I have known, Braudus Flynt was deep in goblin lore. He knew the marks of every Eastern clan; was on fighting terms with every chieftain. Perhaps you’ve read the spurious accounts of him published by Professor Marriden. I swear to you, he was both nobler and sadder than you know.

I traveled with Flynt. I fought beside him. He saved my life, and I cost him his.

I was disguised as usual when we tracked Flynt down at Fort Frontier. I'd heard his name, and when Lord Prast recommended him as the only sure man to reach the ruined cities of the ridge lakes, I had to have him as our guide. Grady approached him while I hung back. This turned out to be the right course, as was proved by their conversation.

“You’re fools,” Flynt declared. Grady replied we were set on it. “I'll not be held liable for the outcome.” Grady warranted that no one could blame him if one of us was so foolish as to make too close an acquaintance with a goblin’s axe. “You’ve no women among you, then?” He’d not yet studied the ten of us. Grady replied we had none and never had. Though, he added, some of the best men he’d ever fought with had been women. Flynt gave my friend a stony stare, but he took our money.

The Easterns tumble down from white-robed peaks into green ridges like blades, and between each line of cliffs lie crystal lakes and fertile lands. Five hundred years ago, the goblins took them, burned the cities, and carried the inhabitants off to their warrens. Back home, I’d read a book about these ruined kingdoms and added them to my itinerary.

Reading is one thing. Scrabbling up and down the sides of ridges, dragging our horses more than riding them, is another. My men had been tested by many things, but even they tired after days of this. Flynt frowned at us more often than he spoke, silently picking out a path that kept us clear of goblin raiders’ common roads.

I watched him every moment, trying to discern the signs he read. He noticed; for one day, he turned in his saddle and addressed me. “If you're to learn anything, boy, you’ll need to actually see what I'm seeing.”
 
So began a week-long course in wood- and weather-craft, punctuated with the old guide’s curses and ringing cuffs to my head when I failed to recall which compass point was indicated by nature’s grinding ways on stone or the progression of moss on a massive chestnut. Grady told me later they’d been  wagering how long I'd take the man’s tutelage before trying to knife him.

How Flynt failed to notice that I never made water in his sight as my men did - inured to my presence as they were - or the lighter tambour of my voice, I cannot say. Except for my lessons and his brusque orders to Grady, he mostly ignored us. He seemed lost, in the vast landscape and in his own, endlessly circling thoughts.

Two weeks out, he announced there would be no more cook fires. The next day, he smacked the pipe from Grady’s lips to make his point. The ridges rose ever sharper. That our guide found paths across them was a sort of miracle. And as the country grew wilder, a sense of our danger stole in and weighed upon our company. We spoke rarely and kept our weapons ready.

At last we reached a height that overlooked a long valley where lake Calis sparkled below us. On the farther shore sat the ruins of a city, towers crumbling away into the surrounding green.

That night, we camped just inside the trees by an edge of the lake under a bright moon.  The men were in a better mood, and spoke quietly over their cold supper. The talk turned to women - one's they’d bedded, wedded, or loved.

Flynt grew restless. His habitually sour countenance tightened. “Women,” he spat. It needled me.

“Come, Braudus,” I teased. “You must have a tale of lost love to share with us.”

I was surprised by the violence of the oath he threw at me. He rose and stalked away into the trees. The men laughed, but I was chagrined and quieted them with a word.

After a while, nature spoke, and I took myself into the privacy of the woods. I was just finishing, my man’s trousers still around my ankles, when I heard a harsh intake of breath. Flynt had come up silently, certainly so lost in his own black mood that he hadn’t noticed me at first. Now he stared aghast, and I knew he’d seen me for the woman I am.

I repaired my clothing, buckled the belt, and thrust out a hand. “Duchess Priscilla Grey,” I declared. “At your service.”

“Breaker’s balls,” the man replied and stormed away to our camp.

I did not rush after him. But when I heard shouting, I broke into a trot. Grady was on the ground nursing a split lip. Flynt was nowhere to be seen.

By the Breaker’s own luck, all this occurred just as a foraging party of goblins that had ranged far beyond its normal haunts rounded a spur of the lake. We were still recovering from the shock of our guide’s desertion when an arrow took one man in the shoulder. They were on us like wolves.

Reaching my blade, I gave blow for blow. Even at that younger age, I knew my craft. In the half-light, I thought some of our party broke away. For myself, I was surrounded, axes and clubs held in a ring around me, the snarling faces of goblins putting a terror into me so deep that I was thankful I'd just relieved myself back there in the trees. I kept the pack at bay for a moment. Then they rushed me, and I was clubbed into unconsciousness.

I came to myself under a lightening sky and took in my situation with dread. The positive was that I had finally reached the lost city of Calis. The negatives were that I was tied against a pole in what had been the central square, while surrounded by hungry goblins, and was so concussed that the front of my shirt was stained with my own sour vomit.

I detest those romances in which the frightened female is carried off by  villains only to be rescued by her handsome hero. Now I wished for just such an embarrassment.

My fate was delayed by a fight that broke out between two of my captors, a huge male and a wiry female I would one day come to call my friend. The other goblins now cordoned the two, ignoring me. I set to untying my bonds, but my fingers were clumsy from the blow to my head. I was just despairing of my chance, when the ropes parted. A voice hissed in my ear: “No sound.” I turned my pounding head and saw beside me the crouching figure of Flynt.

He had to put me over his shoulder since my legs had the strength of wet wool. We were almost to the protection of a sagging stone wall, when a call went up from my guards. The goblins abandoned their sport in an instant. Flynt broke into a run. Though we turned a corner and saw the forest only yards away, the swiftest of them outpaced us.

I found myself on the ground again, a knife thrust into my hand. “Run!” Flynt shouted into my face. “Or do it yourself before they take you.” Then he rose, drew his blade, and charged the goblins, crying, “Miranda! Miranda!”

It was at that moment that four more heroes presented themselves to my grateful eyes: Grady and three surviving companions came whooping out of the shadows and drove off the creatures, if only for a moment. We made for the trees. All the while, Flynt’s aching battle cry of “Miranda! Miranda!” echoed among the ruins.

Do I regret the death of Braudus Flynt, or the five companions who fell by the lakeside, or the two more we left behind in our desperate flight across the ridge lands? No more than I regret the years I spent at the side of the goblin queen, Gurdig, uniting the clans in hope of ending their ravaging. Or the towns of men that I watched burn. Or seeing Grady drawn-and-quartered before my eyes by that obscene murderer Dickson Jobe. Or betraying Gurdig at the last.

Reader, I do not regret the things I've done.

I abominate them.
« Last Edit: September 29, 2017, 09:21:24 PM by Jmack »
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Offline Nora

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Re: [Sep 2017] - Regret and Redemption - Submission Thread
« Reply #2 on: September 16, 2017, 11:54:47 PM »
Kismet - 1500 words.


Spoiler for Hiden:
My suicide note is a sad thing, short and written on cheap paper, filled with sybiline accusations stained by blood. Mine I presume, though I can't be sure. There is, however, no mistaking my  handwriting, with its long curves and whorls.
They brought me back because my death was suspicious.
It's not done often as it's expensive and dead people are a nightmare to handle. I know just how much, since it was my job back at the station. Now I get to experience it first hand, my thoughts always drifting, looping back and forth. Professionally, it's fascinating. As I'm not trying to drill any clues out of myself, it's also less infuriating than expected.
I wish Damon, my partner in our two-people local unit of the Kismet corp, were here to talk to. However miserable my death might have made him, I'm sure curiosity would get the better of him.
As if the fairy godmother of dead people heard my wish, my pocket buzzes. My phone, also tucked in a plastic evidence bag, reveals a glowing image of Damon's face, distorted by three-quarters of a donut shoved whole in his mouth.

"Hello!" I cry through the plastic.

"Oh God, Layla?"

"Sup?"

"Sup?! You disappeared from the station with a bunch of evidence! Barton went crazy, had the place combed down to the morgue! I just left, never figured you'd actually answer. Damn, where are you?"

"Chief should have had my fingerprints taken off the system. I had to go, they were asking all the wrong questions, wouldn't even let us talk."

"You killed yourself, I'm – was – your partner, of course they wouldn't let me see you!"

"I know – protocol – but they had no clue how to do the job. And you're the only other Kismet cop in the state! You've seen the note then? I didn't see my autopsy but it doesn't matter," I pat the back of my head and my neck as I speak, but there is nothing missing there, or anywhere. They did a good job on me, I can tell. The summoner was an Adept. The state of the body helps in fixing the remnants of the spirit, but no spirit can remember its passing, so I still haven't figured out how I did myself in. Head wounds make memories worse, so much so that judges haven't signed a summoning for anyone who ate a gun in decades, making that unlikely. "I didn't kill myself for nothing."

I can hear Damon's laboured breath. Is he crying? When he speaks again, it comes out like a moan.

"You're summoned... Layla, a shade..."

"I noticed. Actually, it's fasci–"

"You're consumed by what you left behind incomplete, you know this! What made you run away? What do you regret this bad? Is this about James?"

I cluck my tongue.

"You're not listening. I'm not running away. I'm moving forward. Capitalising on what a summoning can grant me."

"That being?"

"Drive, Damon. Single-minded drive." Car lights ripple on the window bays. Time to hang up. "Listen, how about I meet you at our old hangout on the corner of Samasarat avenue? In an hour? You can call the chief if you like."

"Wai–"

"I loved working with you Dam, don't be hard on your next partner."

I hang up and stash the phone away, my mind distracted by broken memories of the last six years, snagging on sharp-edged remorse, these minor regrets competing with the greater hurt that defines all that's left of me. I'm just the remnant of a dead Kismet cop, the strongest pieces of her will that survived her passing: the regrets that ate at her heart, the obsessions that drove her mind–the skeleton of a soul.
Keys rasp in the main door. I rise from my crouching position, patting my suicide note through the evidence bag, tutting at the blood stains – the ones outside of the bag, that spread thicker the more I try to brush them away. But blood is everywhere, on my hands, sleeves, up my throat and jaws, drying my work-issued shirt in stiff creases.
I walk to a corner, wipe my palms on the carpet and pick up my crowbar, hefting it. A voice calls in the dark hallway.

"Mike?"

No one answers. The door closes, keys are tossed in a bowl, switches are tried in vain. The man curses and makes his way towards the single lit and functioning bulb, walking straight into my trap like a little shrimp into the jaws of an anglerfish.

When old Supreme Justice Harkson steps into the room, the first thing he sees in the faint light is a pool of dark glossy matter against the fluffy cream carpeting, with a human shaped lump in the middle of it. You'd think he'd panic, but all he does is gasp, and flick the room's switch angrily, like the wires would uncut themselves. His eyes must have adjusted now, to recognise the lump as his son, the pool as gore and blood.

"Mike!" He cries, stumbling forward, falling to his knees in the black-red gunk.

Only months of built up obsession keep me from following my screaming instincts and pounce. Instead I step quietly out, closing the only escape.

'Hello there, Justice Harkson!'

He whirls around, one knee down, presenting the other better than I could have asked for. I swing the crowbar, crushing through tendon and bones. Harkson shrieks, falling back down on the corpse of his son, hands blindly fumbling for his gun.

'A-ha! None of that.'

I bat at his hand, satisfied to see the weapon disappear under the couch, and pull out my own Glock, making sure Harkson can see it trained at him, with little success, since the man passed out.
I can wait. After so long, this is just teasing.

'What did you live for' is the first question we ask the dead. They're always ready with an answer burning their lips. I lived for my family, for pleasure, money, glory, or because dying was harder than going on. They all have their reasons.
Then we ask: 'Who did you fear, love or hate?' And they tell us of the people who marked their lives. We let them rumble on, listening as their regrets gnaw their way out of their heart without artifice. The dead have no reason to lie, so they tell us everything. My job was to turn that flow of emotional information into something useful for investigators. Even dead I am still patient.

Harkson stirs, waking in what I assume must be a cloud of serotonins and endorphins.

'What's a Kismet cop,” he whizzes, “doing in my house, covered in blood?”

His teary eyes sweep over my pale face, the white hair tumbling from my beanie, the bloodshot eyes and bruise-coloured lips.

“A dead Kismet cop.”

“Very observant. Took your son longer to get that far. Proof that when daddy's a bigwig any dumb psycho can turn to serial-killing.”

"I don't know what you're talking about! Who are you?"

"Does James Fitzharding sound familiar?"

Harkson's eyes narrow, from pain or suspicion I can't tell, but he remains silent.

"My name is Layla Fitzharding. The big sister."

Silence still.

"I was Kismet, James was a crime inspector. Worked on the Merryway murderer. Your son." I spit.

"You have no proof!"

"Oh, you made sure of that – for years – didn't you, Justice? No one signed the papers to summon my brother. He was packed off to family to be buried, his colleagues left to puzzle over the circumstances of his death." I laugh. "Too bad for your murderous duo, big sis is friends with half the Necromancy Guild. Had ourselves a little private summoning."

My voice cracks. Dead people can't cry, so I don't.

"Whatever Inspector Fitzharding said during an illegal summoning won't stand in court!"

"I found out clues about the Merryway murderer during a random interrogation on a dead woman who had never testified. She wasn't supposed to be out, she said. Well, her husband killed her anyway!"

I smile a sad, twisted smirk.

"It was me who called my brother with that information. It's the regret that eats me inside out, that I spoke the words that sent him on your hell-spawn's trail. To his death."

The Justice stares balefully, maybe still taken with his illusions of legal justice and fearing recording devices.

"You know why you're not scarred? It's because you think us Kismet cops just chat with the dead. You don't know how often we have to restrain them."

Finally, that raises some alarm. Dots connecting, maybe.

"What–"

"These burning regrets and emotions, they're not only driven to talk about them, but to act on them. To have vengeance, redemption – peace... It feels so right."

We look at each other then, understanding full well we're two dead people chatting over a third.

"Your son was hors-d'oeuvre, but oh! You–" I laugh, and shoot.
« Last Edit: September 25, 2017, 10:32:01 AM by Nora »
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Wishy washy lyricism and maudlin unrequited love are my specialty - so said Lady_Ty

Offline Mikaela A. Ingram

Re: [Sep 2017] - Regret and Redemption - Submission Thread
« Reply #3 on: September 23, 2017, 12:40:02 AM »
It was about time I wrote something for this contest :3

Redemption Unreached

Words – 1,486

Spoiler for Hiden:
The average individual undoubtedly assumes that when someone bangs their head against something hard enough and looses their memories, they become a different person. But when they eventually regain their memories, they undoubtedly, without a second thought to the length of time in which they lived as another person, revert back to who they were before.

In some cases, I have to admit, that was true.

But me? No, no, in my case I turned out much differently than the majority assumed.

And they hated it.

My hands were cold and clammy as I reached up to make sure my hood was up and shadowing my face just enough that no one would immediately recognize me. The weather was suitable for the long cloak I was drowning in, in my attempts to remain out of the public eye. For that, I was extremely grateful.

I used to hate the rain because it once had the bad habit of ruin plans that I had been working for months on. But now I appreciated it. It was my dearest friend.

A sigh of trepidation escaped me before I was able to fully strengthen my resolve. Thankfully, before I could turn back and run for some form of transportation that could take me home, my feet began to carry me towards the marketplace.

I tried to ignore how people shied and drew away from me as I marched passed stalls and around parked carts and horses. It didn’t stop my heart from spasming in a strange way, allowing its friends Doubt and Regret to take up residence in my chest. It only became more difficult to overlook people’s prejudice when I stepped up to the stall I was looking for. There I found myself under the distrustful stare of the stall’s keeper.

My gaze zeroed in on a tray of mince-meat tarts sitting next to one nutritious seed cake which made my stomach turn in a way that reminded me that I hadn’t had anything to eat yet today. Food was hard to come by when you had to travel a distance from your newest lair.

The scents of the baker’s wares wafted out from the depths of the stall, causing my stomach to growl against my will. I quickly make up my mind and dug through my coin pouch for the correct amount of change, and when I found it I handed it over to the baker and asked for a loaf of his bread and one seed cake and three of his mince-meat tarts.

The glare on the baker’s face made sweat gather on my brow. I didn’t dare to take my gaze off of what the man was doing, in case he decided to poison my tarts, cake, or bread.

He handed it all to me and I quickly transferred it all to my small foodstuff sack. I offered him a quiet thank you with a bow of my head. I turned and stalked off to my next destination as fast as I dared while keeping my dignity intact.

Before I had walked five steps, though, I had to stop in order to let a horse and wagon pass. This gave me the unwanted moment of eavesdropping over the conversation the baker had when his wife appeared from the back of the stall.

“Who was that?” she asked.

“That was Edgaras—I was afraid he was going to be coming around today. He was here last week, didn’t say much. He didn’t need to say anything, I’ve never been so repulsed by someone’s presence before my entire life,” the baker replied.

His words affected me in a way I hated to admit. It had just been over three years since my defeat at the hands of Sir Gintaré of Cape Crevasse. It was a defeat that came after a long and arduous battle that had sent us scrambling up the ruins of  Geltores Castle, which sat on an outcropping of rock that looked about ready to break off and crumble into the sea. My memory grows foggy at how the battle progressed, leaving me to only remember the flashing and clashing of blades until he shoved me over the edge and I fell. My head struck the rock below, but I did not die. I simply forgot.

And Gintaré took care of me, helping to nurse me back to health, and in gratitude for him rescuing and aiding me in getting back on my feet with my empty head, I served beside him and helped him battle evil. It had been such a change from who I was before, a change I hoped would stay with me. But the average citizen of the kingdom of Talnor, the ones who remembered who I was, were not so quick to forgive. They were not going to forget about what I had done, what threat I had once posed.

After all, it was not every day that someone was able to sneak into the king’s castle at the heart of the capital—where they did battle with the king who was strong in his own right. It wasn’t every day that an assassin nearly overpowers the king and kills him.

The more pessimistic half of myself often mused that I could save the kingdom from attack from Norethir in the north and I would still not be forgiven.

Could a man like me ever truly be forgiven?

Once the horse and wagon had passed, I clipped my foodstuff to my belt and slipped through the crowd until I came upon a vegetable cart. Lettuce, cucumber, celery, carrots, and leeks stared up at me from between baskets of pea pods, cloves of garlic, and various herbs. I picked and bought only the vegetables with the longest shelf-life since my ride home was a day and a night’s ride away.

I liked cucumber and carrots the best, so I went about picking out some of the more average-sized ones, and some of the smaller ones as well, since I was alone and thus didn’t need to buy the larger specimens in order to feed others.

I smiled to the young woman running the stall before handing her the appropriate amount of gold and silver pieces. She smiled her thanks, her eyes sparkling in a way that told me that she wasn’t judging me like the other was. I nodded my thanks to her, thankful that I found someone that didn’t judge me by my past, only what she could see in front of her.

I dropped my vegetables into my foodstuff sack and gave the girl a nod. Turning from the stalls, I paused for a moment to seek out my next destination, the fruit stall. But before I could even go two steps from the stall, a chill crawled up my spine and I stopped. My brow furrowed at the feeling—it was a feeling I hadn’t felt for a good long while.

Turning around, I looked back into the vegetable stall. I stilled when I caught a glimpse of the girl, whose eyes were wide and filled with terror as she was dragged out the back of the stall.

I was moving before I could think, my sack of foodstuff feeling as if it weighed nothing as my instincts took over. I rounded the tent, prepared to deal with this situation accordingly, but I was forced to stop when I saw exactly what the situation was.

The brute who had grabbed the girl had a good foot of height on me and looked like he came from the settlements on the border Talnor shared with Gatha to the south-east. Rougher around the edges and taller than the average man. I gave him a quick glance up and down, sizing him up before a grunt wormed its way out of my throat.

In all my long, long years I’ve fought with every sort of man that roamed the lands in and around Talnor. I had done battle with a brute like him before, but it had been years.

I had been going soft over the last few years—and I no longer fought a brutally as I once did.

“Why don’t you let the young lady go?” I goaded as I forced myself to ignore the whispers of doubt in my head. “So you can fight someone closer to your caliber?”

The brute snarled at me and I felt a thrill rush through me. I clenched my fists in anticipation and gave the girl one last glance before I shifted my stance. She had fallen to the ground and half inside the back of stall behind hers.

This act of kindness would happen out of sight of those who I wanted to witness it. But it couldn’t be helped—I would just have to find another way to prove that I was worthy of redemption.

Offline NightWrite

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Re: [Sep 2017] - Regret and Redemption - Submission Thread
« Reply #4 on: September 24, 2017, 11:12:04 PM »
Journey in the Dark - 1155 Words.

Spoiler for Hiden:
Rough rocks dug into his back, but Pendrak's body refused to move. Water clung to his skin and lungs as the sound of a rushing river filled his ears. Artu rambled on in the back of his mind, but Pendrak paid little attention to his wood daemon.

How long had it been?

Since he'd entered the abandoned mine to support his friends, only to get lost?

Since he'd fell through a hole in the floor, dragged off by a rushing underground river?

Since he'd pulled himself from the water?

Since he'd last moved?

An hour? A day? Time was difficult to track for the teenager, alone deep down in the darkness.

"Pendrak. Pendrak! By all the Gods, get up."

Artu's shout reverberated through his skull. Pendrak tried to chuckle, but air seized in his throat.

After his coughing fit, Pendrak slowly pushed himself up using a nearby stone wall.

Do you think we can pull off some light?,” Artu asked.

In response Pendrak opened his aura and touched upon the flow beneath. He tried to calm him nerves and faint light sputtered into existence within his cupped palms. Pendrak tried to ignore the way it shined off his scaly arm, a sign of aetheric stain, and focus on his surroundings. Wooden beams lined the tunnel walls like sagging soldiers before the grasping darkness at the edge of his light.

Shivers wracked his body. Pendrak tried to convince himself it was the damp which still clung to his skin.

He looked back at the small chamber the river had dropped him in. Would his friends follow? Pendrak hoped not, he was lucky to have survived the river. Though considering where it had lead, it wasn't benevolent luck Pendrak thought as he picked up his damp clothes.

As they moved down the tunnel every sound became scraping claws and snapping jaws. Every shadow held a monster. Pendrak felt eyes upon him, the presence heavy and old.

He was an intruder in this world of the deep.

Pendrak thought of praying to his gods, hopeful they would send aid if not out right rescue him themselves. But they were often busy. They couldn't be everywhere, couldn't hear everyone. And his mother had told him stories as a child of things better left alone which could come instead. In the dark places of the world they'd more likely to answer his calls and would consume him down here, alone in the dark.

Pendrak wound his arms tight around his torso, angling his left arm so the light could still spill forth. He would have to hope he could save himself. He wasn't ready for his journey to Lady Olsara's embrace.

It felt like hours as he wandered, exploring dead end tunnels and remnants of the miners' presence. Often they had to stop to rest, Pendrak's muscles on fire and his lungs melting in his chest. More time than he liked they crawled in darkness, Pendrak unable to keep the light going. Whether from nerves or risk of burnout.

His stomach growled often and his waterskin was almost empty. His skin felt jittery, like spiders crawled everywhere, and it was hard to stay still when resting. He tried massaging his limbs whenever he stopped. Yet it brought little comfort or relief, the strain and itch remained. He wanted to curl up and die, the fight seeping out of him like blood onto stone. Thoughts of loved ones kept him going. As did the thought of denying the things which skittered in the dark their easy meal. If they wanted his flesh, they'd have to come get it themselves.

Artu spent most of the time babbling aimlessly in Pendrak's head, trying to drown out the silence of the cave. Pendrak had no problem letting them. When Artu was silent, the chorus of regrets and doubts rose up to try and smother him like the dark smothered his light. If he let them, it would be the end. He'd break and the skittering masses would descend upon him.

He'd been spending more time with a hand over his throat. Tried deluding himself, telling himself it was only to massage his parched neck. It would do little in the end. When they came for him they wouldn't just go for his throat.

Time seemed to run like sand through his fingers to further blur his perceptions. Was he young, was he old? Was he dead and not yet aware of it?

He'd begun cursing his friends and himself. They had wanted to explore the abandoned mine, and Pendrak had given in with little fight. He had so few friends left, once the village learned of his condition. Weak spark, his peers teased.

He laughed, a harsh, hallow sound reverberating through hallways. Half of them would have given up before they even began down here.

Though it didn't matter now. Pendrak would spend the rest of his life down in the mines, whether he wanted it or not. It was penance for his weakness. For trying to change himself for an unrequited love, like his mother always warned him against. Takok probably didn't even realize he was the reason Pendrak had come. Begging and hoping for scraps of affection from an oblivious best friend.

The noise was maddening. A scratchy, bubbling sound which pounded at his ears.

“Come on then. You want me, I'm right here!” he shouted. Pendrak threw open his aura and flared it bright, sending more power then he ever held up and down the tunnels.

Death was coming for him and he would greet it. Make them work for it, before he fell. If he didn't, he would wander these halls for the rest of days as a revenant or wraith.

Noise filled the tunnel as something sloshed towards him. Artu shouted for him to stop, but he ignored the daemon.

Lights coalesced around him and he saw it. An elemental, this one looking like a mound of moving mud, inching towards him at a deceptive pace.

Some old miner equipment laid next to him, abandoned.

Pendrak stumbled as he grabbed a pickaxe, his aura snapping shut from strain. It did little to silence his shouts or halt his charge as he advanced on his foe.

It bellowed as Pendrak stumbled into it, pickaxe driven down into its muddy mass. By the shift in weight and sound, the pickaxe's head had fallen off. Perhaps left driven into the elemental.

Needle-like spears of earth pierced him as he hammered against it.

What he once feared would be his escape. His freedom from the smothering dark.

His body weakened and what perceptions he still had blurred as he kept swinging. The mud crawled up his body in squishy embrace.

He continued to squirm and struggle as it bound him, crushing and smothering him.

He fought, earned his freedom, he would die without regret. Hoping it choked on his bones.

Offline Alex Hormann

Re: [Sep 2017] - Regret and Redemption - Submission Thread
« Reply #5 on: September 25, 2017, 11:28:11 PM »
Second Chances

1500 words

Spoiler for Hiden:

The bar is quiet. Two farmhands sipping on glass bottles. Perched on stools that are dry with age. The moisture absorbed by dozens of patrons over the long years. The barman is equally worn by time’s erosion. A husk of a man, his skin cracked and broken.
   Katya ignores them. Leaves them to their silence. Her eyes are drawn to the saloon’s other occupant. Her path draws her exclusively towards him.
   Old, rattlesnake thin, the man does not look up as Katya approaches. His head stays low, hiding in the shade of his wide-brimmed hat. There’s a bottle in his hands, unopened and filled with liquid gold. He turns it over and over. End over end. His eyes never leave the endless cycle. Cap then butt then cap again.
   Katya coughs, hoping to pull him away from the bottle. He doesn’t look up. Steadying her breath, gripping the knife at her hip, she steps forward and coughs again. Louder this time.
   “Leave me be girl,” the man rasps. “I’m not in the mood and I haven’t the coin.”
   She steps back. “I’m not here for that. I need help.”
   “Come to the wrong place then.”
   “No I haven’t.” Emboldened, she grabs a seat and falls onto it. She faces him, her eyes seeking his. “My dad said you can help me.”
   “He’s a fool then.” The man sniffs. “I don’t know you, and I doubt I know your dad. Leave. You’ll be better off.”
   She stays. “But you’re him, aren’t you. You’re Red Hans.”
   “Bloody,” says the man. He sets the bottle on the table, shaking hands sliding away from the glass. He looks up, eyes meeting hers, swimming with unspoken memory. “It’s Bloody Hans.”

#

The quickest hexer on the frontier flexed his fingers. Tiny sparks crackled between the tips, making his nails itch. Always got this way before a duel.
   Four meters away, his opponent stood. Legs apart, knees bent. A globe of light dancing on his palm. Ever the show-off. That was the problem with the new breed of hexers. All style and no substance. Maybe that was too harsh. Lazlo has some skill. Had to if he was to hold a hex for that long. But he hid it under a facade of lunacy. A crude line crossed his cheeks, a grotesque parody of a grin. His hair was spiked, dyed the same red and white as his duster. He didn’t even go by Lazlo anymore. Taken to calling himself the Dread Fool.
   Hans flicked his fingers, dismissing the building charge. It crackled away onto the aether. Gone from human reach. It was getting harder to hold onto a hex. Getting old, he supposed. Old, but not beat. Not just yet. There were a few duels left in him.
   “Ready, old man?” cackled the Dread Fool. A few members of the crowd laughed along with him. Easily entertained, these backwater townsfolk.
   “I’m ready, Fool.” Hans had no time for showmanship. Popularity didn’t win you a duel. Something dear Lazlo was about to learn.
   The light in Lazlo’s hand vanished. A rainbow shone at his wrist. He flicked, sending seven separate beams toward Hans. A smile on his face the whole time.
   But Hans was ready. He wove a series of hexes, refracting each beam in turn. The last, violet, almost made him break a sweat. But that could have just been the heat. His turn to smile now. He locked his fingers together and pushed away from his body.
   Before the Fool knew what has happened, he was on his back. Eyes bleeding from the power of Hans’ hex. Excessive, perhaps. But the youngster needed to learn his lesson. Hans turned to the gathered crowd and raised his fist. A simple show of victory. Showmanship had no place in the duel. But in the aftermath, it was everything.

#

“Dad said you’re the best hexer this side of the Kennan Rivers.” Katya’s voice is laced with pleading.
   “Not anymore.” Hans reaches for the bottle, pops the cap of with his thumb. There is a tremor to his hands, like a web plucked by a careless spider. “I’m no-one anymore.”
   “That’s not true,” Katya argues. “You bested the Dread Fool in single combat. You rid Coppercopse of its bandits. You’re a hero.”
   Hans puts the half-empty bottle on the table. “Hero?” he scoffs. “You don’t know a thing about me.”

#

There was a time he could weave a hex fine enough to knock an apple from a child’s head. A long time ago. Seemed like a lifetime.
   Hans’ fingers twitched. All hexers got worse with time. There was only so much energy a human being could channel through their body. Different people had different thresholds, but everyone cracked eventually. Hans knew his time was drawing near. He had one, maybe two more duels in him. That’s if he was lucky. Maybe this one would kill him. Who could say?
   His opponent flashed a scowl at him. It looked odd on a face like his, but then his whole face was rather peculiar. He’d painted and tattooed himself until he no longer looked human. Silver’s and bronzes. Mimicry of wires and metal plating. His name was Stanislav, but he now lived life as the Mechanical. Another of the new wave hexers.
   No longer the hexer he once was, Hans went on the offensive. Attacking hexes were simpler. Easier to weave than their defensive counterparts. He struck out with a crimson lance. Pain shot through his arm as he did so. Wouldn’t be doing that again in a hurry.
   The Mechanical batted the lance aside, replying with a serious of darts from his fingertips. No way to dodge all of them.
   Hans blocked the worst of them, still taking a nasty shot to the leg. His knee threatened to buckle, but he stayed upright. Stubbornness could be your best friend in a duel like this. He retaliated with a quick jab, lightning jumping from his fingertips to the Mechanical’s chest. The man fell, his descent masked by a pall of smoke.
   The audience cheered, but Hans wasn’t paying attention. He was too busy listening to the hammering of his heart. More than energy gone than he’d counted on. Maybe this would be his last duel.

#

Hans downs the rest of his drink. “Get gone. Unless you’ll buy me another.” His eyes drift to the purse at Katya’s side.
   She notices. “I’ll pay. If you’ll hear me out.”
   He sighs. “Forget it then. You’ll ask for help. I’ll say no. You leave and I go thirsty.”
   “What makes you so sure?”
   “You’re looking for a hexer. A hero. I can tell just by looking at you. That’s not who I am, girl. I’m no use to anyone.”

#

One last time. One last duel.
   Aubrey, self-styled ‘King of the Duel’, smiled at Hans. He was confident, and with good reason. Hans was no longer the man he once was. He’d grown old, fragile. He knew he should have retired years ago. Pride wouldn’t let him. Every time a hexer called him to a duel, he answered. His hands were shaking uncontrollably, any hint of precision gone. Brute force was his only tactic now.
   “Ready?” called Aubrey. “You don’t look ready.”
   Hans blinked. “Sorry,” he said. “I was thinking about what to have for supper.”
   Aubrey snarled, folding his arms into an aggressive stance. He wasn’t like the others Hans had faced these past few years. Aubrey had talent. Real talent. Improve his temperament, and he might even make a good duellist someday.
   But not today.
   Hans cracked his knuckles. He started forming his first hex. Slowly, carefully. Too slowly. There was a crack like distant thunder, and Hans found himself staggering backwards. He heard Aubrey laugh.
   “You all right, old man.”
   Hans gritted his teeth. Time to educate the youth. With a guttural cry, he unleashed the full force  a half-formed hex. No precision at all, just a direction to throw the aether in. Straight at Aubrey. He felt a wave of exhaustion break over him. Too much in one go.
   He fell to one knee, ready to admit defeat. The call to surrender never came. Hans looked up, sensing the mood of the crowd shift from anticipation to horror.
   Aubrey was not there. Nor was a large part of the street. Just smoke, ash. Silence.
   Hans had pushed himself too hard, and Aubrey had paid the price.

#

“Should have known when to stop,” Hans whispers. “Should have retired.”
   “I know,” says Katya. “But my dad saw your duel with Aubrey. He still thinks you’re a hero. The best hexer in the frontier.”
   “He’s an idiot then. The power’s there, but I can’t hex worth a dog’s bark.”
   “I know,” she says again. “But we don’t need finesse. We need someone who can kill bad people. You’re a killer, Bloody Hans. Why not put that to good use?”
   Hans looks at her, eyes narrow beneath the brim of his hat. Slowly, he nods.

Offline Rukaio_Alter

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Re: [Sep 2017] - Regret and Redemption - Submission Thread
« Reply #6 on: September 26, 2017, 12:38:20 AM »
I had way too many ideas for this, both comedic and serious. Eventually ended up going for this one because the story came to me better. I also ended up stealing a bunch of names from my novels-in-progress because coming up with new ones is hard.

Anyway, coming in at 1500 words, here's One Last Shot.

EDIT: And apparently Alex Hormann had the exact same idea I did. Huh. How about that.

Spoiler for Hiden:
The bar didn’t look like much.

It was an old twisted thing, made from dusty wood and rusty nails. The windows were boarded and only a few haphazard lights could be seen inside. It was the sort of place hobbled together by people who didn’t quite know what they were doing with materials that weren’t quite the right fit. A typical low-rent joint in a nothing little village up the arse-end of nowhere.

However, outwards appearances were not of much importance to Mortimer. What mattered was that the drinks were cheap and the company nonexistant. He didn’t want to be bothered.

He hadn’t wanted to be bothered for many years now.

The creak of the door caught his attention. He looked up to see a young boy with dark hair hesitantly enter. The boy began nervously looking around the tavern at each and every patron in turn before carefully making his way through the tables.

Mortimer could tell by the youth’s nervous demeanour that the boy clearly wasn’t used to entering this sort of low-down establishment. He could also tell by his fine clothes that he was from a fairly cultured upbringing and, judging by the less-than-fine condition they were in, that he was down on hard times. The sword on his belt had seen some action, but far from enough.

So. A well-off kid enters a seedy bar he’s clearly uncomfortable with. Obviously he’s looking for something. Or someone. And, unless Miss Moggin’s pork pies had suddenly surged in popularity, there was only person here worth looking for.

Mortimer tried to stifle his groan as the young boy edged closer to where he was sitting. He kicked a chair open.

“Stop pretending and sit down.” He said bluntly. “Might as well get this over with.”

The boy’s eyes widened. “Y-You’re really him?! You’re Arugard Mortimer?! The Dusk Knight?”

“Feh.” Mortimer spat onto the ground. “I haven’t been The Dusk Knight for a long time, brat. If you’re looking for that bastard, you’re fresh out of luck.”

The boy swallowed and shuffled closer. “My… My mother sent me. Her name was Rina Scurio. She said you’d recognise the name.”

A rainy night. A dark alley. An urchin girl, unbathed and undernourished, shakily held up a knife. Her face was gaunt, but Mortimer couldn’t help but notice the fierce glint in her dark eyes.

There was something worthwhile in those eyes, he thought. Something worth cultivating.


“Rina, huh?” Mortimer fondly snorted. “Trust one nosey brat to sire another nosey brat.” He took a swig from his cup. “How’s she doing, anyway?”

“Oh, great!” The boy perked up. “She’s the current Captain of the Crow Knights, one of the finest battalions in the country! Her unparalleled skills have made her an icon among-“

“Okay okay.” Mortimer waved the kid down. “I asked how she was doing, not her fucking resume.”

The boy coughed awkwardly. “Sorry sir.”

“Don’t call me sir.” Mortimer said on reflex.

“R-Right. Sorry, mister.”

Mortimer rolled his eyes. The brat was certain a lot more timid than Rina, that was for sure.

“Kid, I don’t have all night.” He took another swig from his mug. “Just tell me what Rina wants so I can refuse and go back to my booze in peace.”

The boy swallowed. “I need your help to rescue a princess.”

Mortimer blinked.

Mortimer blinked again.

Then he turned to face the kid with the most incredulous face he could achieve. “You’re fucking kidding, right?”

The boy shook his head firmly. “Nearly two weeks ago, Princess Amelie was kidnapped by Asteian Soldiers. Since she’s the Fourth Princess, the King says she’s not worth the cost of sending a rescue force for her.” Mortimer could hear the raw pain and frustration in the kid’s voice. “The Asteians are going to execute her in five days unless I can save her first.” He looked up with a pleading gaze. “I need your help.”

Aw hell. This brat and the princess were clearly closely acquainted. Very closely acquainted. No wonder the idiot had taken it upon himself to rescue her against his King’s orders. And now he was going to drag Mortimer into this mess?

Mortimer let out a shuddering sigh and ran his fingers through his hair. “Brat. Do you know why I quit the Royal Knights?”

The boy shook his head.

“I grew tired.” Mortimer rested his face in his hands. “I grew tired of the constant death and pain and failure. I grew tired of everything I couldn’t fix and everything I failed to save. I grew tired of being a fuck-up and a failure.”

“A failure?!” The boy’s eyes bugged out incredulously. “But you’re the Dusk Knight! You beat back Savage Jack during the Invasion of Crosswall! You slew the Black Bard! You single-handedly turned the tide in the Battle of Cherrygrove! You’re a hero! They wrote songs about you!”

“Yeah.” Mortimer snorted bitterly. “When I won. They never wrote songs about Sixspire. Or the Marsh Slaughter. Or, gods forbid, the Battle of Crimson Flood.”

“Jeanne! No!”

Blood and tears ran down the side of his face as he cradled her body. He could tell from a glance that the wound was fatal. She looked up at him, eyes almost pleading.

“Mort… I…”


“S-Sir Mortimer?” The boy’s voice snapped him back to reality. “Are you alright?”

Mortimer raised his hand to his cheek. It came away wet with tears.

“It’s nothing.” He said. He got to his feet, his chair scraping across the ground. “I’m leaving. Rescue your damn Princess on your own.”

“But Sir Mortimer-!” The boy tried to step into his path.

Mortimer grabbed the kid by his lapels and pushed him onto a crusty old wooden table with a loud thump.

“Look, brat.” He snarled in the boy’s face. “I don’t care what your mother told you, but I’m not a hero. I’m not some knight in shining armour here to help you win the day and save the girl. I’m a fuck-up of an old man filled with regrets who just wants to drink and piss his life away in peace. I was born violent and bitter and I’ll die the same. Nothing I’ve ever done has ever truly changed anything. Nothing I’ve ever done brought me happiness or relief. Nothing I’ve ever done was even the slightest bit worthwhile. Nothing!” 

Mortimer released the kid, straightened his back and violently drained the rest of his ale.

“You came here looking for the Dusk Knight.” He said. “But I’m not that man any more. Maybe I never was.”

He slammed the mug onto the table and headed for the door. As he did, he could hear the boy shakily get to his feet.

“Y-You said n-nothing you did was ever worthwhile!” The kid called after him. “But what about me?!”

Mortimer paused.

“What about you?”

The boy was still clearly shaken by Mortimer’s outburst, but he stood his ground nonetheless. “My mother always told me that if you hadn’t taken her under your wing, helped her off the streets, taught her swordfighting and cooking and everything else, she’d have died cold and hungry in some alley somewhere.” His fists tightened. “If you hadn’t helped her, she’d be dead. And I’d have never been born. Don’t tell me that’s not nothing!”

Mortimer flinched. “Kid, that’s-“

“And I’m not the only one!” The boy continued. “How many lives have you saved with your actions? How many families would’ve been torn apart? How many children would’ve been left unborn or never knowing their mothers or fathers?” He shook slightly, but kept his footing. “For every person you failed to save, hundreds owe their lives or existences to what you did. Don’t tell me for a minute that it wasn’t worth it or didn’t change anything! Don’t tell me that the name my mother gave me, Mortimer Scurio, means nothing!”

The bar fell into silence. The only sound that could be heard was the ragged breathing of the young boy, young Mortimer, as he stared his namesake down. He had that same fierce glint in his eyes that the older Mortimer had seen in a young urchin many years before. Eyes that held such potential, such possibilities, enough to awaken nurturing instincts that Mortimer had assumed were long dead.

Heh. Rina just didn’t play fair.

Mortimer let out a weary sigh. “Cripes, brat. You really know how to make a speech.”

The kid’s eyes lit up. “You mean-“

“Perhaps.” Mortimer rolled his shoulders back. “Don’t really know how much use an old, out-of-shape fossil will be though.”

Mort Jr seemed almost ecstatic, buzzing around the room with energy. “Don’t worry! The two of us will be great together, I know it!”

Mortimer gave a fond snort. He knew he hadn’t changed that much. He knew the Dusk Knight wasn’t some great hero worth emulating. He knew he wasn’t a hero.

But, you know what? Fuck it. He might as well give it one last shot.
« Last Edit: September 26, 2017, 01:20:10 AM by Rukaio_Alter »
5 Times Winner of the Forum Writing Contest who Totally Hasn't Let it All go to his Head.

Spoiler for Hiden:
Also, <Insert GOD EMPEROR OF THE WRITING CONTEST joke here>

Offline Carter

Re: [Sep 2017] - Regret and Redemption - Submission Thread
« Reply #7 on: September 30, 2017, 10:51:30 PM »
Here's my attempt this month, coming in at 1,453 words. 

Spoiler for Hiden:
Seeking Justice

[/b][/u]It had been a long day.  Finally the plaintiff came to the end of his accusations. 

Cheeks puffed out and reddened by passion, his fervour was eclipsed only by the triviality of his case.  Simple landlord extortion, it paled in comparison to even the simplest of case Niamh was accustomed to in the Empress’ Courts.  Unfortunately for her, every Justice had to undertake a progress to the provinces every five years.

She turned her attention to her duty.  The way forward looked clear.  A simple sentence for the landlord.  A straightforward upholding of the rental dues.  Except for two things. 

One.  The landlord, a young owner compared to those she usually saw, had a cocksure grin smeared across his face.  It spoke of an assurance of success, or at least a confidence that nothing would change in his life whatever she chose to do. 

Two.  Her audience consisted of too many locals whose faces mirrored the plaintiff’s in different shades of fervent anger. 

The village lay on a frequent route used by travelling Justices on their way back to the capital.  No doubt numerous of her fellows had passed through this place.  It is was not difficult to imagine just what fates they had distributed here.  It was almost remarkable that they still clung to the hope of a different verdict after so many disappointments.

Where before her gut had been calm, now it roiled.  The blackness within her struggling to be loosed into the world. 

“Effan ap Gwydion,” she said, the magic broiling uncomfortably at his name.  “Through your actions, you have engendered poverty and destitution in those you should protect.”

Effan nodded along to her words, his self-assurance undimmed, seemingly uncaring of the hex forming within her. 

“For these crimes, you are hereby sentenced to a minimum of three years as a mendicant.  Hospitality and care shall first upon those of your tenants who fell into arrears until such time as their indebtedness to you is discharged.”

His smile flickered, her words finding chinks in his certainty.  It returned as a man to his left stepped forward, hesitant and a tremor to his lips. 

The curse reacted quickly before the second man could speak.  Black ichor erupted from Niamh’s skin.  It writhed in the air, twisting into thick tendrils, filling the air with the stench of bile and brimstone.  With an agonising wrench, they whipped away from her, seeking their victims.  The largest, thickest strand lashed at Effan, striking again and again across his shoulders and bearing him to his knees.  The rest twined their way amidst the crowd.  Discomfort replaced eager glee as all of Effan’s former tenants were bound together.  Vomit rose in her throat and she spat a obsidian gobbet onto the floor, sealing the verdict to the earth. 

As the hexes took hold, her stomach calmed, the darkness within her settling into its customary rest.  Did she imagine the lightening of her burden?  Did her decision today count in her favour?  Even after all her long years of service to the Empress’ judiciary, it was impossible to tell. 

When the darkness had vanished, Effan lay curled on the floor, his pathetic whimpering drawing grim smiles from onlookers.  The other man’s eyes flickered between her and the prone man, his mouth working silently.  Another strode forward, anger writ large across his face, features so similar to Effan’s as to leave no doubt. 

“You cannot do this!  This kind man was about to volunteer to take on Effan ap Gwydion’s burden.  You have denied justice.”

The crowd’s harsh eyes turned to Gwydion.  None supported his words, not even the apparent volunteer.  No doubt he was merely some paid lackey to be richly rewarded for taking on Effan’s sentence.  It would be far from the first time.  For all the technical truth of Gwydion’s accusation, she could not find an iota of regret. 

“If you have a complaint, you can take it to the Empress’ Courts,” Niamh said, her voice lacking any inflection as she fought to control the onset of nausea. 

For a moment it looked like Gywdion might continue to argue.  She longed for him to do just that, the first stirrings of her gut anticipating the need for another hex.  She swallowed it down as instead Gywidion helped his son from her presence.  The crowd leached away after him, the justice so many had sought finally administered.  Around her the scribes began to pack away their equipment, expecting the day to be over. 

But a single man remained. 

Her heart sank.  After a curse affecting such a significant number of people, she needed to rest and purge herself of any lingering residue.  Instead she had to sit through one more case.  And looking at the bedraggled, haggard man beggar before her, she foresaw only a tedious litany of petty grievances.  Minor assaults, perceived debts owed, perhaps even a fantasy that he was heir to some estate; such were the usual complaints. 

She beckoned him forward.  He strode with a purpose she had not expected, head back and meeting her gaze squarely.  Determination shone in his hazel eyes. 

“State your accusations.”

A brief shudder ran through his body as he prepared himself to speak.  It was only for an instant but she had long learned to identify even the smallest signs from accuser and defendant alike. 

“I accuse Bil ap Rhodric of treason.  Of murder.  Of theft and unlawful confiscation.  Of rape and torture.”

The scribbling of her scribes sought to record his words, quills hastily retrieved and vellum scarred.  She quickly held up hand for silence, her previous apathy replaced by a deepening unease.  Instantly, like one well accustomed to the vagaries of a travelling court and nothing like she would have expected from a simple beggar, he quietened, waiting patiently for her words.  A chill suspicion that spread through the depths of her being.

“State your name.”

She knew it even before his confirmation.  Knew it but had to ask for the sake of her scribes.

“Bil ap Rhodric.  Father of – ”

“I know who your son is,” she said, cutting him off before her scribes could indelibly record it for posterity.  Before someone else could make the connection and act without thought or compunction. 

Her gut twisted and clenched.  She longed to loose it all, to flay him with the worst of curses, to force him into unimaginable torment, to make him endure the worst of his son’s myriad crimes time and again.  For him to receive the justice his son had escaped by virtue of a simple death. 

Bil braced himself, expecting it.  Waiting for it.  Wanting it. 

Her gorge rose unbidden, black speckles dotting her skin as the magic forced its way to the surface.  She took deep breath after deep breath, striving to hold it all in. With every heartbeat she watched Bil wilt.  Her blood seemed to boil as she contained her hexes.  Acid ate at her throat as it tried to force its way upwards. 

With an effort of will she swallowed. 

Bil’s knees buckled but he stood firm.  Tears streaked his face but he dashed them away with a defiant hand.  He met her gaze once more, staring at her. 

“I deserve it and more for what I failed to prevent,” he said, his voice steady and assured.  “I will see justice served.”

His words echoed within her, ringing with truth.  An errant thought snagged on something buried deep.  It had been so long since she had truly contemplated her position.  Justices lived such long lives, their bodies preserved by the roiling mass of hateful magic in their souls, that it was so easy to forget their origins.  Of how the Empress had unlocked the guilt and channelled it into something new. 

Her heart hammered in her breast as she contemplated the options before her.  She could not curse him anymore than she could curse herself.  Nor could she let him go to force himself on another Justice. 

But would the Empress consider his case?  For the father of the Butcher of Llanach, she might.  For the man who had raised such a demon such as the Empire had not seen for two generations, she might.  It would not be an easy path for any of them it was the only one available.  If she could assist in his ascension to the ranks of the judiciary then it might, just might, expunge some of the guilt she bore.

And perhaps even she, Niamh ap Arra, mother of Allain ap Madog, the once consort to the Empress herself, the man responsible for shattering the Empress’ heart and almost cleaving the Empire in two, might one day achieve redemption. 

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: [Sep 2017] - Regret and Redemption - Submission Thread
« Reply #8 on: October 01, 2017, 01:26:07 AM »
Keeper of the Clockwork Queen



1500 words

Spoiler for Hiden:


“Mortalss,” Ancelegon hissed in the long, whistling way of dragons, “are foolss. But you, knight, are more foolissh than mosst.”

The dragon and I sat on the battlements where I had watched as Angelegon and the rest of the dragon-flight threw down our foes two days before. Somewhere below, my halberd lay in the smoking wreck of the battle. Sunlight splashed across us, but where the corruption had stained the stones black, the warmth of the afternoon sun failed, just as my courage had failed. No light would ever warm those stones, where they had come for the Clockwork Queen. Our queen. My queen.

“I am.” I looked into Ancelogon’s irises, as gleaming bronze as her finely-scaled wings and long, sinuous neck. “I am foolish. But I am a coward, as well.”

“I ssaw no cowardss here.”

“I did.” I frowned at her, one hand on the hilt of my great sword, which I had not had the courage to draw when the great demon had batted the halberd from my stricken hands.

“I had the better view.” She shook her snout at me and blinked. The blink of a dragon is remarkable. It hides the beauty of their immortal eyes and then swiftly restores it in a way that trembles the heart. But knowing that my courage was empty, that my bravery was just a lie, had set my heart beyond trembling.

I ran my fingers down her leg, over the ivory claws, smooth as glass and stronger than steel. “You were glorious,” I sputtered. “You saved us, you and the others. You saved the queen.”

“Gloriouss,” growled the dragon. “A foolissh word. But a knight musst have honor. And you ... you have losst yourss?”

I nodded.

She knelt and drew me onto her back. I clutched her neck as we teetered on the brink, the blackened stones and earth before us, the shining battlements beside and behind. “Then let uss find it.”

She dove, then swept upward, her powerful wings thrusting us higher and higher. Below, the Thousand Thousand Roads converged from every horizon, leading to the gates of East and West in the walls of the Clockwork Keep.

“Tell me, knight, what iss thiss place?”

“The Clockwork Keep.”

“That is itss name.” The dragon turned her head and stared at me with a single bronze eye. “What iss it?”

“It is where the east and west meet, where the sun rises first and sets last.”

“You read too many bookss,” Ancelegon laughed. “What is itss purposse?”

I gawked at her. “It has no purpose. It is just ... just where travelers come and meet under the protection of the Clockwork Queen.”

“That is a purposse! A noble one, worthh defending. Attend to the pathh of our enemies, knight – what do you ssee?”

Sweeping across the land like a broad brush painting tar, a dark swathe of destruction and corrupted earth led from the north in lazy loops toward the city. The dragon turned and swooped low over the trail. Burnt houses and barren fields of ash whooshed by beneath us. The dead, friend and foe alike, lay in twisted, blackened heaps here and there, the brittle bones of the good bleached white, the broken bodies of demons putrid, sickly gray.

“I see death.”

The stench of sulphor and death watered my eyes and caught my breath in my throat.

“Deathh, yess. What else?”

The blackened ground careened across the fields toward the city walls, and I saw how the wide gray of trampled greenery became a narrower, darker streak of churned earth that focused on the battlements  where I blew the great horn and waved the golden pennant. The swarming monsters leapt the dike, climbed the walls in creeping waves, while I blew until my courage left me. I fled the walls, yelling until my throat could only rasp and wheeze while I ran down the stairs to the outer court, across the flagstones, and through the inner gate.

“You raised the alarm. You drew them to a narrow place,” Ancelegon hissed, “gave them something loud and full of blood to chasse. No ssmall thing.”

“I am faithless. I broke my oath. I yielded the outer walls.”

Ancelegon swooped into the courtyard, where  the first of the dragonflight had rallied to the queen’s call. “You are a ssentinel, not an army.”

“I was a knight!” I cried. “I wore the crimson and the gold. I took oaths to defend these walls, to defend our queen. People salute me and thank me, for they know I stand the wall and I hold vigil while they sleep. But any farmer’s dog would have done better than I, a knight of rank, Keeper of the Clockwork Queen.”

I stared at the great patches of burnt flagstones where brave Balostrath and fiery Encindia had fallen. Their bodies had been burned on a mountain top, as is the custom among the great drakes, but I could hear the echoes of their cries. And sometimes in the deep night, I hear their echoes still.

“I fled, Ancelegon, while they breathed fire on our foes and fought and were pulled down. I might have saved them.”

“Perhapss,” she said, eyeing me. “Perhapss not.”

“I should have stayed. I should have stayed to the last.”

“You ssaved the queen. When the great one came, you held your ground.”

“YOU saved the queen,” I cried. “I held nothing. You won’t find a finer halberd in a hundred leagues: triple-forged steel, sharper than a razor, mounted on wire-wrapped oak. And it knocked it from me like it was nothing.”

She came then, the Clockwork Queen, and Ancelegon lowered her mighty head. I knelt as the queen made her delicate way down the steps to the courtyard. Her gold crown was set with countless jewels of green and red and lay upon locks of bound copper and gold wire. Her eyes of sapphire gems glinted and flashed above her veil of fine, silver filigree, like gossamer. Her swaying skirts were made from the same amazing stuff and swayed like cloth as she glided along.

“Ancelegon,” said the queen in her musical voice like the pipes of an organ. “Fetch the knight his weapon.” Ancelegon departed in a rush of wind.

“I am no knight, Your Majesty. Not anymore.” I held my eyes to the ground before her bronze-shoed feet.

“Stand and look at me,” she said. Her face of polished platinum was as perfect as always: high cheeks and long lashes of copper and gold. “What do you see?”

“I see my Clockwork Queen.”

“And what is it to be a clockwork, sir knight?”

“To be perfect,” I said.

Her lids of painted bronze narrowed over her veil. “And what is perfection?”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“Perfection is the absence of flaws. And if I am this, then it means I am not human – for all humans are flawed, are they not?”

“We are, Your Majesty.”

Ancelegon returned, bearing my halberd in her claws. She set the weapon on the ground and at the queen’s gesture, left us in a rush of wings.

“You are human, sir knight. And so you must be flawed. Tell me, what are your flaws?”

“I ran in the face of fear.”

“Where did you run?”

“To your tower.”

“And was my tower not the objective of the enemy? Does this not make my tower the most dangerous place in all the world to be?”

“It does. But I still ran from fear.”

The queen canted her head in her odd way. “Whatever you ran from, you ran into greater danger, did you not?”

“Yes, but- ”

The queen’s filigree veil swayed slowly as she shook her head.

“Take your weapon.”

I raised the weapon I had carried for so long for just such a day as had come, only to be as useless as I was.

“Your weapon was perfect, flawless and without peer. Is it perfect, still?”

“No, Your Majesty.” The head was scratched from its fall from the battlements. The axe-blade was chipped. The wire-wrapped handle was rent where the great demon’s claws had knocked it from me. And the weapon was stained black with corruption.

“Shall we melt it down, then?”

“No! It’s still the finest of its kind, my queen.”

She removed a glove and dragged a brass finger across the blackened blade, revealing the shining steel beneath. “Take your weapon to the finest smith and have it restored. And while he works the steel, you will remember what I tell you.”

“My queen?”

“That your are flawed because you cannot see your virtues, only your flaws. Such perfection as I have shows me that you remain the finest of your kind. The bravest men are less fearless than dragons, but that does not make them cowards. Redemption cannot be found, only given, so I give it to you now. This was but a testing, knight. The corruption shall return. Who will defend me?”

“I will.”

And I did.

« Last Edit: October 02, 2017, 04:14:34 AM by The Gem Cutter »
The Gem Cutter
"Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco. There's always the possibility of a fiasco. But there's also the possibility of bliss." - Joseph Campbell